Jurassic Park's Mr. DNA Mascot Solved A Major Problem With The Script

One of the biggest challenges in adapting a novel into a movie is figuring out how to cram all the exposition into a decently moderate run time. Such was the problem Steven Spielberg faced when Universal won the bidding war to turn Michael Crichton's 448-page novel "Jurassic Park" into a film. But that wasn't the only hurdle. The director already had a big enough conundrum on his plate: figuring out how to realistically bring to life the dinosaurs that were undoubtedly its central stars. Spielberg's salvation? Luckily, the director had a dream team working on the script, with David Koepp arriving to assist and then completing the working script Crichton had started. Then there was the wizardry of Industrial Light & Magic's Dennis Muren ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day"), who provided the means to create the revolutionary effects for the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park." But it would take all three — Spielberg, Koepp, and Murren's effects — to solve their exposition problem. They accomplished it by coming up with easily the most underrated character in the film.

Mr. DNA to the rescue

In an Entertainment Weekly oral history of "Jurassic Park," David Koepp described their issues with finding an organic way to insert the "vast amount of scientific exposition" of the novel into the movie:

"How on earth do you get that in a movie? I remember Steven [Spielberg] and I were wrestling with that very issue, about the DNA, and one of us said, 'What are we supposed to do? Have a little animated character called Mr. DNA?' And the other one said, 'Yes! That's exactly what we're going to do!'"

Mr. DNA (voiced by Greg Burson) might only appear in one scene in the film, but he's always been a memorable part, a kind of unofficial mascot for the park. It's also no accident he makes his debut during the informational film park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) screens for his guests. Spielberg drew on memories from his childhood for Mr. DNA's inspiration:

"When I was a kid, the AV kids used to wheel in the projector and show these Frank Capra-produced and -directed documentaries on the mind, the heart, and the sun. I just remember all the interstitial animation that was done to illustrate the science and thought, 'Why don't we do all this in a two-minute animated handbook for the audience?' It would be easy for everybody to understand how this is even possible to bring dinosaurs back."

Since Jurassic Park was a theme park, what better way to ease curious parents and children through the complexities of dinosaur cloning than with a cartoonish short? Burson, who voiced numerous "Looney Tunes" and other legendary cartoon characters, lent Mr. DNA a buoyant personality that helped transformed him into a kind of Mickey Mouse for "Jurassic Park."

Koepp was essential to adapting Jurassic Park

The idea for Mr. DNA might've come from Steven Spielberg, but that doesn't mean David Koepp wasn't instrumental in adapting the rest of Michael Crichton's novel. By the time he'd joined, the original author was long gone and had left behind a rough draft of the script. Koepp told Consequence in an interview that he actually "never met Crichton." In retrospect, however, the screenwriter — especially in the eyes of Spielberg — is the reason "Jurassic Park" is the movie it ended up being. The director told EW:

"David basically took it from a banquet to fast food and that's a compliment because the movie feels like a drive-thru. The scenes are tight. The story David wrote is a page-turner. There's just enough science to make it credible and then it's a downhill race from then on."

The succinct style of storytelling obviously made it easier for Spielberg and Koepp to solve their exposition problems. But it also meant they could produce a faithful adaptation of the novel. Early on it was considered that Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) might be conflated into Alan Grant (Sam Neill) — thankfully that didn't happen in Koepp's script. In special features footage from the "Jurassic Park" Blu-ray, it's even revealed that he's responsible for adding much of the dynamics between characters, from Grant's arc with Hammond's grandchildren to Malcolm's flirtation with Ellie Satler (Laura Dern). And much like the Mr. DNA scene, the moment in the Jeep when Malcolm demonstrates his chaos theory to Sattler with a few drops of water is just another example of Koepp condensing important character illustrations into concise but impressionable scenes.

The origin of a great Samuel L. Jackson line

One of the reasons Steven Spielberg chose David Koepp to complete the "Jurassic Park" script was director Robert Zemeckis. He'd worked with the screenwriter on his recent film "Death Becomes Her" and told Spielberg as much. But Zemeckis has another albeit unwitting contribution to "Jurassic Park," and this one involves one of the film's many standout side characters, Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson). "Hold on to your butts," Arnold says grimly as prepares to reboot the park's power through puffs of a cigarette. This quote in particular is pretty ingrained in my library of most used phrases, and according to a Reddit AMA, Koepp said it came from Zemeckis:

"It was something I heard Robert Zemeckis say, when we were working on 'Death Becomes Her' but I had the good sense to jot it down immediately and use it!"

As evidenced by Mr. DNA's small but memorable role, in "Jurassic Park," side characters are just as important as its central ones. Sometimes that's because of general badassery, as with Arnold and game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck). More often than not, though, it's because they're destined to be dinosaur meals, like when lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) gets munched by a Tyrannosaurus rex on the toilet or Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) gets eaten by a dilophosaurus. Such moments offer up many of the film's best quotes: "When you gotta go, you gotta go," Malcolm muses when Gennaro runs for the bathroom. Or when Nedry mistakes hunger for playful stupidity: "Nice juicy stick! Fetch!" and then later "Walnut brain ... extinct kangaroo ... hope I run over you on the way down." Although hands down, the film's best quote is Muldoon's "clever girl," delivered just seconds before he takes a velociraptor bite to the face.